Necessity is the mother of invention, and the San Antonio Spurs were in desperate need of a shakeup when coach Gregg Popovich did something unexpected. He seemed dead set against playing number one overall pick Victor Wembanyama at center for more than a few minutes at a time and certainly not starting him at the five.
However, in the middle of what turned out to be an 18-game losing streak, Popovich relented and slid Wembanyama up to center. The results have been staggering thus far. In ten games at center, Wemby is averaging 18.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 4.1 blocks, and 1 steal. Those numbers underscore just how much better he's played at center than at power forward, with Wembanyama having more space to move around and the Spurs playing faster.
Not only that, but he has been far more aggressive, crashing the glass on the defensive end and scoring more effectively in the paint on the offensive end.
This is despite his teammates often struggling to make basic entry passes or lobs, though they have done a better job of late.
Also, since December 7th—when the Spurs started playing Wembanyama at center—they have had a 118 defensive rating with him on the floor, which would be the 16th-best rating in the NBA during that span after ranking 28th prior. That proves just how impactful he's been in his new position.
Wembanyama being dominant on the glass, more effective on offense, and swatting just about every shot in his general area has suddenly turned him into an elite two-way player just 30 games into his career.
What does Wembanyama playing center mean for the Spurs going forward?
Given that the Spurs opted to extend Zach Collins, who previously started alongside Wembanyama, it suggests that they expected Wemby to be ready to play center by his fourth season. However, with him now playing center, that obviously changes their plans.
The Spurs paid Collins starter-level money on his two-year extension, but he's now backing up Wembanyama. That presents the Spurs with both an opportunity and a challenge. Wembanyama is clearly ready to play the five, meaning he's well ahead of where everyone thought he would be at this point, and that could alter how San Antonio builds around him.
With Collins pushed to the bench, it could potentially lead to him being traded after this season. In fact, he could be just one of many players moved in a Spurs overhaul, with Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman, Devonte Graham, and even Keldon Johnson all potentially being moved as well.
The goal should be to build the best possible team around their new centerpiece by having four shooters, including multiple ballhandlers, who can get Wembanyama the ball. If they can, then the Spurs could quickly go from worst to first, with Wembanyama emerging as one of the best centers in the NBA.